While all national and local governments are urging people to stay at their homes during this Covid-19 pandemic, slums in Delhi are being demolished, leaving hundreds of slum dwellers without any place to live. On September 24, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) demolished around 50-70 huts in Jamia Nagar’s Dhobi Ghat slum as part of their ‘clearing drive’. The residents weren’t given any prior notification about the demolition drive.
The sudden move by the DDA has displaced hundreds of people, with their belongings either destroyed or lost. A similar incident was about to take place near the railway tracks in Delhi that would have destroyed 48,000 slums, but the ‘clearing drive’ was stalled by the Supreme Court after applications were filed to stop it.
The pandemic is possibly the worst time to carry out such a drive. The people living in these slums have nowhere else to go if their slums are destroyed as most of them are migrant labourers who don’t have a permanent residence. The only alternative available to them after their homes got destroyed would have been to travel back to their hometowns and villages, but due to the pandemic, even inter-state travel has become extremely difficult due to a limited number of running trains.
Travel also puts an additional financial burden on these people and many of people can’t even afford to go back home as their livelihood is contingent on the informal jobs they have taken up in the city. A lot of them don’t have any savings as they live on daily wages. Apart from the financial hindrances, they’re going to face other problems, which will further deteriorate their quality of life.
They have no place to sleep, store their belongings, cook their food or carry out other basic activities. It’s a violation of their right to life as the government has failed to provide basic amenities that are paramount to ensure a minimum quality of life. In the absence of any rehabilitation being provided to the displaced slum dwellers, they have nowhere else to go.
Adequate housing is a human right and the absence of it negatively affects urban equity and inclusion, health and safety, and livelihood opportunities. They are likely to settle on footpaths, roads and any other place they can find. All this is likely to lead to catastrophic consequences. Amid an ongoing pandemic, living without proper sanitation facilities, bathrooms and a place to sleep in will put their lives at a greater risk.
As of 2014, according to the World Bank, the population living in slums in India stood at 24% (of urban population). In Delhi, 1.8 million of the 22 million residents live in 22 slums. Clearing off these slums isn’t the solution to decrease the number of slums in the city, as the displaced are likely to set up their homes at some other place as they can’t afford housing. Instead, what is needed is attention towards renewed policy and increased investment to ensure affordable and adequate housing for all.
Covid-19 cases are on a constant rise in Delhi-NCR, making these slum dwellers among the most vulnerable. With no access to proper healthcare facilities, they are living in unhygienic conditions and now have been left on the streets with no assistance from the authorities.
In light of such incidents, organisations such as the Indian Centre for Development and Rights (iCFDR) are working towards providing relief to the slum dwellers by distributing food, clothes and other necessary articles. The organisations are even conducting online classes for kids in the slums in times of the pandemic. Such organisations act as the last ray of hope for underprivileged people who have been failed by concerned authorities.